Strengthening regional bonds through think tanks: Middle East and Caucasus

11 September 2023

In the vibrant city of Baku, Azerbaijan, I had the privilege of attending an event that aimed to create unprecedented connections between the Middle East and Caucasus regions. Hosted by the AIR Center on 5 July, DEVE Initiative and I, alongside several other think tanks from the Middle East and Caucasus (MEC), embarked on a journey to explore opportunities for building connections in the context of security and cooperation. 

The potential role of think tanks

The Middle East and Caucasus regions have a shared history and geographical proximity that offer great potential for fostering strong connections. Cultivating constructive relationships between countries in these areas can yield greater regional stability, economic growth, and cultural exchange. One effective means of facilitating this bond is through the collaboration of think tanks.

Think tanks are pivotal in promoting dialogue, fostering understanding, and generating innovative policy solutions. Their role in creating a healthy connection between the Middle East and Caucasus countries cannot be overstated.

According to DEVE Think Tanks Portal, the MEC region boasts a total of 340 operational think tanks. DEVE’s assessments show that 43% of these think tanks are producing innovative policy solutions. 40% are highly active but with limited policy innovation, while 11% have low activity and zero policy innovation, and the remaining 6% are inactive.

One thing to emerge from the conversation in Baku was that the MEC think tanks sector must engage the next generation, as they are the future decision-makers, elites, officials, and the public. Think tanks should recognise that the region’s youth hold immense potential.

Three proposed activities 

DEVE Initiative has formulated a roadmap to activate this vital role:

  1. Establish a think tank alliance: This fosters collaboration and ensures sustainability. It reshapes the perception of think tanks as a sector rather than separate entities. Through the alliance, MEC countries can set up joint think tanks with experts from both regions focusing on issues of mutual concern and providing a platform for dialogue and mutual interest.
  2. Create a council for MEC youth within the alliance: This ensures lasting impact and builds bridges of trust. Through the council, they could promote scholarships that facilitate student and faculty exchanges between universities, fostering cultural and academic exchanges that create lasting networks.
  3. Design a MEC annual conference: This serves as a hub for high-level dialogue, rethinking traditional approaches to the MEC region, drafting new agendas for the future, and addressing common regional challenges.

Six potential areas for collaboration

  1. Conflict resolution and peacebuilding: In the Middle East and Caucasus, rife with conflicts, political tensions, and complex diversities, think tanks serve as neutral mediators. They facilitate dialogues, create open discussion platforms, and bolster peace efforts through research. By identifying conflict root causes and proposing resolutions, they bridge perceptions and foster trust. For instance, the MEC Think Tanks Alliance brings fresh perspectives, addressing the Palestinian cause, Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict stability, and trust revival in Syria.
  2. Regional infrastructure and connectivity: Think tanks can develop recommendations for enhancing transportation links, trade corridors, and digital connectivity can boost economic ties and foster people-to-people connections.
  3. Economic cooperation and trade: In-depth studies on the potential benefits of increased trade and investment between the two regions can provide policy recommendations promoting economic cooperation. For instance, this approach can be channelled into formulating comprehensive regional food security policies or crafting joint policies to address water crises in specific regional countries.
  4. Energy security and sustainability: Think tanks can assess potential for energy partnerships, explore energy diversification, and promote of sustainable energy practices that lead to energy security and economic stability. Potentially create a joint energy agenda.
  5. Building cultural bridges: Organising cultural events, seminars, and conferences can foster dialogue and mutual respect between scholars, experts and official representatives from each region.
  6. Climate change and environmental cooperation: Think tanks can champion collaborative environmental initiatives between the Middle East and Caucasus. They pinpoint shared vulnerabilities and propose joint efforts for sustainability. This includes tackling high-pollution activities and addressing the region’s role in global warming through regional brainstorming sessions, fostering a healthier, sustainable future for both regions.

Building a healthy connection between Middle East and Caucasus countries is essential for regional stability, prosperity, and cultural understanding. Think tanks, with their research expertise, objectivity, and dedication to finding solutions, can serve as invaluable catalysts in promoting cooperation and collaboration. By focusing on joint research initiatives, mediating dialogues, and engaging in Track II diplomacy, think tanks can pave the way for a brighter and more interconnected future between these two regions.